In its ruling, the court said the board must more closely follow the Alaska Constitution. In doing so, the court referred to a 20-year-old case, Hickel v. Southeast Conference, that laid out redistricting guidelines after a 1990 redistricting plan was challenged.
“We have previously characterized the redistricting process in Alaska as ‘a task of “Herculean proportions,”’ and we do not diminish the considerable efforts made by the board in this case,” the court stated. “But these difficulties do not limit the board’s responsibility to create a constitutionally compliant redistricting plan, nor do they ‘absolve this court of its duty to independently measure each district against constitutional standards.’”
The redistricting board’s executive director, Taylor Bickford, said in a statement that the board was awaiting a legal analysis from its attorney.
“Our goal has always been to adopt a final plan that will serve the best interests of all Alaskans, and we believe that today’s order will help us accomplish that goal,” Bickford wrote.
Kodiak resident Bob Brodie, a member of the redistricting board, said he has been reviewing the court’s decision as well.
“I’m going to have to go back and read up on what they did when the Hickel redistricting plan was challenged,” he said. “We tried the best we could to protect the interests of the Native voters and at the same time be as responsive as we could to the state.”
The redistricting board spent months last year balancing the needs of the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires that Alaska Natives maintain majorities in five House districts and three Senate districts, with the state constitution, which requires that election districts be compact and share interests.
The decreasing population of rural Alaska forced the redistricting board to make compromises in western Alaska, such as with House District 38, which stretches from the Fairbanks North Star Borough to the Yukon River delta.
The court ruled that district, as well as House Districts 37, 1 and 2, unconstitutional and ordered them redrawn.
If the redistricting board has to make drastic changes in western Alaska, Brodie said Kodiak could be affected. Under the plan overturned by the court, Kodiak would be part of a majority Native Senate district that includes Dillingham and much of Southwest.
“Now that this has come out and we have to redraw most of the Native districts … it’s hard to tell how far-reaching effects will be,” Brodie said. “If we have to adjust those to any great degree, it’s hard to tell how it will affect us down here Senate-wise.”
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.